Last year the CBA took an important step in a direction it seems a lot of its members had wanted it to go – providing information and guidance in the area of mental health.
Since Mental Health and Wellness in the Legal Profession, developed in association with Bell Let’s Talk and the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, was launched online almost exactly a year ago more than 1,500 people have participated in the course, which was designed to help people in the legal profession understand mental health and addiction issues and to point them in the direction of available resources.
Response has been uniformly positive, says Rachelle Watson, Project Manager for the CBA Wellness Forum (or, as it will be known following this year’s Council meeting, CBA Wellness Section), with many grateful the CBA had taken this important issue on board.
The course saw its biggest surge of participants in the first few months after launching, when interest in the legal and mainstream media was highest. Spokespeople did a lot of presentations in the past year to various groups, including the public service, and the CBA is still fielding requests – former President Janet Fuhrer is scheduled to give a speech on the topic of health and wellness in the legal profession this month.
One of the side benefits of the course and the accompanying publicity was the fact that it helped to put a human face on a profession that doesn’t get a lot of good PR.
The course also attracted attention from other organizations, including big law firms, who were interested in developing their own mental health programs. “It was one of those things that no one had done before,” she says.
The next step will be developing a plan to promote and market the course to young lawyers and law students. Watson would eventually like to see wellness integrated into all CBA initiatives and tools – developing the course helped the Forum realize that people are looking for training in things like resilience or coping skills, or for ways to enhance the skills they already have, in order to avoid ending up in a situation where a mental health issue prevents people from working.
Developing the course was a catalyst to look into what the needs of the legal profession are, to identify the gaps in resources, and to find solutions, perhaps in partnership with other professions, that can be tailored to the specific needs of lawyers.
“The course opened the door to the CBA being involved in lawyers’ mental health,” says Watson. “We’d love to hear if people have ideas about what they want us to provide, we are always open to that.”